It’s Spooktober, and as someone that thrives on horror games, movies, and other media, it’s one of the best times of the year. So here we have a horror visual novel written by the same guy that did Higurashi. Yeah, that’s pretty much my calling.
So right off the bat, if you’re familiar with the author’s other works, you’ll already know that any story from him is going to be quite the ride and that is no exception here with Iwaihime. It’s dark, it’s depressing, and it’s even outright nasty at times, but that’s par for the course given the writer’s track record. In fact, it doesn’t take long before the game goes into full-blown descriptions of humans dying in the most brutal way possible, with organs flying everywhere and this overall sense of dread that never quite leaves the writing, even towards the end of the game.
It isn’t like all of this is just thrown in there to make the game dark though, there’s actually a pretty well-thought-out story tying it all together, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. You’ll spend about half of the game wondering what is going on and how anything fits together, only for it to come together later on and make some sense. Given that the game purposely toes the line between dream and reality, this is the intended effect, but it does make the first half of the game a bit of a drag to get through, especially when it’s just a constant barrage of death.
Once you get over that hurdle though, you get a bit of a genre shift. It still maintains the gruesome scenes and whatnot – at least, to an extent – but it becomes more of a folk horror mystery with a Japanese edge to it – and as a result, is much more enjoyable. It goes from outright gorefest to something more along the lines of Ju-on or Kwaidan. I wouldn’t say that the journey to that point is bad, but just that it kinda feels aimless, disjointed even.
After that point though, the story really gets going, tying together everything from the first half with an engaging, twisting plotline that doesn’t let go until the end (minus one rather major hiccup that I’ll get into shortly). The story itself is divided into three different routes (which you can choose from at the single decision point about a third of the way into the game) and completing those three routes unlocks the final true route, which once complete unlocks an extra route on top of that. The true ending and extra route is where the game really shines, bringing out the best in the writing.
However, before you get to those two, you have a bit of a filler chapter to play through (the hiccup I mentioned earlier). I want to avoid spoilers, so I won’t give any specifics, but let’s just say that this chapter could almost be removed in its entirety and nothing would be lost. It’s a stain on an otherwise solid latter half to the story.
As for the art and music, I would say that the game does a good job there as well. It’s got a decent amount of character sprites, backgrounds, and CGs to keep things interesting. The character designs are nice and are done less stylistically than what is usually seen in the medium, a bit more realistic while still maintaining that visual novel look. And the game really likes using effects on top of its visuals, whether that be overlaying images on top of each other, stretching and moving them, or just applying nasty filter to fit the scene. It blends all of this with a dark, somber soundtrack, one that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the story here.
So with all of that said, I’d say that Iwaihime is deserving of a light recommendation. It may not be as good as Higurashi and the like, but it’s a decent enough horror VN all things considered and a good read during Spooktober. The base story is interesting, but it does take a while for things to really get going and the writing is definitely not without its issues. The art and music are good though, so I would say it comes down to how into the horror genre you are on whether or not to pick this one up.
You can buy Iwaihime on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.